License to Drive

July 19, 2011

Graham, Feldman & Haim

License to Drive is a movie clearly made with the assembly line in mind. The filmmakers have taken the body of Risky Business, the chassis of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the low rumbling engine of After Hours.

Funny thing is, for a film that should (and often does) feel like a mass-produced vehicle, License to Drive provides a pretty painless ride. I know I chuckled at least 12 times, which is about a dozen times more than I’d expected.

There’s nothing new about the main matter of the film, which is a basic recapitulation of basic adolescent hijinks. One kid (Corey Haim) needs to get his driver’s license so he can impress the girl of his dreams and his best friend (Corey Feldman). Unfortunately, he flunks his driver’s test the day he’s scheduled to have a big first date with the dream girl.

The final two-thirds of the movie is the date, which Haim embarks upon despite the absence of the license. Actually, he’s all but given up on the whole idea, until he receives a phone call from the girl on the night in question: “So, you can pick me up in 20 minutes?” That’s a siren call no hormone-pumping young American could possibly resist.

So Haim sneaks his grandfather’s pristine Cadillac out of the garage and glides away. After that, the roof falls in – quite literally, by the end of the movie. Director Greg Beeman and screenwriter Neil Tolkin have devised every possible catastrophe for our young driver and the soon-to-be-unrecognizable car.

Along with the girl (soon soused on champagne), he picks up two buddies and carries them along for the ride, as they encounter a rumble at a burger drive-in, a violent Communist Party demonstration, a humorless tow-truck driver, and finally a drunken car thief.

Nothing too surprising about any of this, and the humor is entirely tied up in pubescent obsessions, albeit the nightmarish side of them (the movie even opens with a nightmare about escape from a hellish school bus).

But Beeman displays some sense of how to set up an honest joke, and the performers are generally likable, if somewhat nondescript; Richard Masur and Carol Kane do their usual good work as Haim’s hip-but-not-that-hip parents. At the very least, Beeman taps into many of the central terrors peculiar to the state of being 15 ½ years old.

First published in the Herald, July 1988

“Nothing too surprising about any of this”? How did I say that after typing the line about the violent Communist Party demonstration? I guess I was dazzled, to some minor degree, by the movie. It got bad reviews and was one of those movies reviewers could point to in order to trace the collapse of American cinema, but I liked it. This is a shameful thing to admit about a Two Coreys picture, but I remember it having a decent sense of comic timing and momentum. Not that I’ve seen it since it came out. Director Beeman went on to a very successful TV career, including stuff like Heroes and Smallville. I didn’t identify the female lead here, but it was Heather Graham, a year before Drugstore Cowboy.